Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Anti-convulsants and alcohol. Can I get drunk?

One of the biggest urban legends must be that one cannot drink alcohol whilst taking medicines. Any medicines! How many people have you heard telling you this? They really do care, they tell you for your own good. Doesn't really matter if it's complete bullshit! Well, it is complete crap most of the time, but not always. So it is important to know which medicines will mess up your social life - assuming you're a social drinker and not a lonely alcoholic - and which medicines can be OK. Sometimes it is worth experimenting, but sometimes it is also worth knowing when not to experiment, when it has been tested and is bad news. My current knowledge is being on phenytoin. So can I get drunk whilst taking phenytoin?

The answer for me has been Yes! Like most medicines, phenytoin is broken down in the liver, along with alcohol. In my experience, drinking alcohol has been, more or less, fine. Indeed, one neurologist even told me that drinking wine will be fine, and to keep alcohol to a minimum for my own health, but there was no good reason to avoid alcohol completely. Other neurologists obviously subscribe to the flagellant branch of medicine and have said not to drink alcohol. I have enough problems handling the epilepsy and the medicine side-effects - what I don't need is bogus advice to become a teetotal anchorite. If you are only taking phenytoin and do have problems handling alcohol then let me know, for me it hasn't been a problem.

As I said above, it is worth doing little experiments on this. You don't need to get blind drunk, just a small drink and see what happens. This should be OK, but keep the drink small. I did have one really bad experience. It wasn't with phenytoin but with a beta-blocker (betalol). The doctor did warn me and I was a good boy until a friend came to see me. I tried a small drink - had about a quarter of a glass of beer - and... oh shit... was like a sedative for an elephant. Was useless for 10 minutes and didn't touch a drop for the rest of the night. So sometimes... sometimes... alcohol and medication do not mix. Just be informed and don't believe ' good advice'.

Getting real information is not so difficult these days, just do a search on alcohol and your drug, look at a number of different sites to see if they agree. Make sure they are specifically talking about your drug, not a similar one, not one in the same family, but the exact brand you are taking. In the above example, some beta-blockers seem to be OK with alcohol, just not mine! And if your reaction is different to what you find written then so be it, our metabolisms are all slightly different.

And for a last bit of advice, get your blood checked out regularly. I've had a full test done recently and hepatic functions are all normal. The one thing that was slightly out could be ascribed to the phenytoin and am now on supplements to bring that back to normality.

If you really cannot drink alcohol then that's too bad, but it isn't worth making your life worse just for a bit of volatile spirit, but if you're just assuming you cannot drink then do a bit of research.

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